Abbeyfields First School hits the map as one of the leading outdoor education settings nationally
The gentle popping from a wood burning stove, the murmur of hushed excitement as a stag strides through a wildflower meadow, the aromatic smell of wild garlic drifting over shaded ancient woodland – not the average school environment for most children today. Outdoor learning however is nothing new to the pupils of Abbeyfields First School, both old and new. Inside the four walls of every school classroom up and down the country, children gain extensive knowledge set out in the National Curriculum that is required to achieve a well-rounded education. As vital as this is, they are sedentary, sealed off from the natural world outside. Yet being outdoors has untold benefits for children that cannot be achieved in the confinement of a classroom both physically and mentally.
As far back as 2008, Abbeyfields introduced Forest School activities as part of their curriculum offer, long before any other schools in the North-East of England, to get children outdoors as much as possible and expand their avenues of learning. In a short space of time, Abbeyfields Forest School became a centre of excellence acting as the hub of the Northumbria Forest School Network, supporting practitioners around the region to share ideas and improve and promote good practice.
Fast forward 14 years and Abbeyfields has once again pushed the boundaries of conventional learning by constructing an Outdoor Education Centre like no other. The impressive building constructed by North-East based Green Roof Structures has been designed with sustainability and the environment as its most important considerations. From the living sedum roof, volcanic rock insulation and sustainably sourced wooden structure to the wood-burning stove, rainwater collection and bat boxes - everything about this building teaches children about the impact we have on our environment and how to live in harmony with it.
The school witnessed the hugely positive impact that learning outdoors through Forest School has on every child by building their confidence and independence, improving communication and social skills, developing resilience, nurturing empathy for others and for nature, improving physical and mental health, honing knowledge and understanding of the natural world, managing and self-evaluating risks – the list is endless. Not content with simply providing Forest School sessions for every pupil, Abbeyfields have taken an unconventional and innovative approach to learning – if a lesson can be taught outdoors, it should be. The new facilities enable the school to take every lesson outdoors by utilising the impressive resources in the Outdoor Education Centre (OEC).
Gone are the days where pupils must sit at desks learning from textbooks or endless computer presentations. The lucky students at Abbeyfields can experience Science, Geography, English, Maths, Design and Technology and Art lessons outdoors utilising the breath-taking grounds to their advantage. A Year 1 science lesson based around plants and their biology previously carried out in a classroom now takes advantage of the facilities by collecting specimens outdoors and viewing them closer under microscopes and digital visualisers in the OEC. Year 3 shake off the shackles of classroom learning about soil science by getting their hands dirty in the award winning RHS 5-star rated allotment and carrying out soil experiments under the cover of the OEC canopy, designed to enable lessons to be taught outdoors even during the harshest of weather conditions. A Year 4 English lesson based around creative writing previously taught indoors now consists of suiting up head to toe in waterproofs and wellies, grabbing a clipboard and heading off to the adjacent ancient woodland to sit under the shade of a 300-year old beech tree and be immersed in nature. This is education as it should be – a truly inspirational experience that captivates young minds and allows them to access their learning in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore.
Added to this, Abbeyfields extends this unique learning experience to parents too through special after school events, from bat nights where experts bring professional bat detection equipment for all to use, to camping weekends where adults get to be a child again, toasting their own marshmallows by the fire, climbing trees and observing the badgers, foxes and deer at dusk from a purpose-built wildlife hide. As the schools motto states, ‘Abbeyfields First School is Special’ and the children of Morpeth are going to benefit hugely from this both now and in the future. It is hoped that the Outdoor Education Centre sparks a love of the environment and inspires the next generation of custodians of the natural world around us.